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About the 'other' forum

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About the 'other' forum

Post  piginthecity on Thu Oct 25, 2012 9:53 am

Moved from Forum Matters to Organisation, activism and charity for relevance
Hey Cuduggan (and all)

This forum is a good idea and congrats on that. It seems that I'm either the first on, or nearly so anyway !

I thought I'd basically copy something I posted to a different forum about the safe space A+ forum, which i hope is interesting and constructive to this forum, even if it is rather long. I also hope I've got the right section.

The background is that, as an atheist, and a 'gentleman of the left' I first lurked on the A+ forum as an excited sympathiser, this morphed to baffled sort-of-sympathiser, then to 'woah!-steady-on-there' and finally to a 'no-no-no!' as i went back to the forum several times over the next couple of weeks and saw all the ghastliness.

The upshot is that I think trying to build a community using an internet forum is an unworkable idea, and secondly that this notion of 'safe-space', is actually a disaster in practice.

By the way, I've lurked, but never posted on to the main forum. I won't do so, because I know I'm not wanted there, and that however hard i tried, anything i posted would be, on some level 'trolling'.

Anyway, this is the original post (which i composed earlier today)

------------------------ start of copy of my post to other forum (today)

Hello All -

This is my first post here, so Hi !

I'm posting because I think there's an aspect of the 'Atheist +' drama which has been overlooked. There has been thorough discussion around the wisdom of conflation of the left wing politics with atheism, and also of the topic of the hijacking of the name. Important issues all, but I'd like to focus on a different aspect for a minute. This might be a rather long and convoluted post, and also relatively kind to the A+ people, so grab a coffee or take a deep breath, but please do keep reading.

Whatever the merits of the A+ 'movement' may be, their mistake was to try to form a community using an online forum, and then to make it this 'safe space'. From then on, disaster was assured, simply by virtue of the dynamics of the internet.

The internet doesn't have spaces. It's just information. Our brains visualise the internet as a series of spaces because we are these monkeys and our brains have evolved to be good at processing data geographically. We make sense of all the information by visualising that we're visiting a series of places, and we've designed the internet to help with this by creating 'sites' with different look and feel from each other because that's how it's easiest for us to have our information served up.

You or I may talk about a web 'site', but I guess that we're aware that this is just a metaphor. But what happens when a group of people set up a site and take this too literally. They begin to think and act as if their forum is really a 'place' and they embue it with properties that a place can have. Such as 'danger' and 'safety'.

In reality, an internet forum is nothing more than a medium for allowing communication between people, one to another. If that communication is 'dangerous', (however defined) then the forum is dangerous and no third party, however well-intentioned or with access to whatever in terms of software privilages can ameliorate the danger.

The folly of A+ forums was to decide, from the start, that, with the correct strict moderation, they can promise their users this safe space. Even leaving aside the myriad different ways this 'safety' can be defined, this is almost insane hubris. The internet is the internet, and, in any public internet forum, however strictly moderated, you don't know who you're talking to and what they are going to say, and the user themselves has to take ultimate responsibility. Moderation can reduce the levels of annoyance, and, more particularly, can reduce the time wasted reading rubbish, but it can't possibly be the difference between 'safety' and 'danger'.

"This is the ONLY place I can come on the internet and be treated as a human being !" bleated one A+ user (quoted from memory - I have lurked). How can a moderator possibly accomodate such a person's sense of expectation ? How can he possibly know what 'being treated as a human being' even means except that apparently every other single site on the entire internet has failed ?

So the hapless moderators are left floundering between unrealistic expectations on the part of fragile users who will bear no responsibility for their experience (and mustn't be expected to at all costs), peer pressure from each other to make sure their 'patch' is policed to the correct standard down to the level of such things as gender neutral pronouns, and no doubt plenty of posts from people unsympathetic to the project which range from mischevious to those genuinely trying to find common ground and trying to steer the thing in a sensible direction.

Add to that the paranoia element of everyone using psuedonyms, the normal politics about who is and who isn't a mod, and not knowing if a post is by one of the FTB Olympians in disguise, it's no wonder the atmosphere is as febrile as it is.

There's another factor too. And it's why 'safe space' is counter-productive. It's the monkey-brain thing again. Our brains have this remarkable capacity to materialize our experiences online. Video games exploit this, and even crudely rendered ones can successfully engender a sense of place and an atmosphere, for example, danger, in the gamers. So, when a certain sort of user, self-identifying as vulnerable, comes in to the forum, he or she is told that there are trolls and haters, dangerous people about but not to worry, because Sir Flewellyn, knight of the safe space, is there to protect them. This means that anyone who the moderator identifies as being 'dangerous' is immediately visualised as such by our user, and must be immediately banned or the safe space is violated. I may be pushing this analogy too far, but it's rather like coming across a monster in Warcraft or something. Something online, harmless in this case, provokes a reaction of fear because of the way it (or he) is presented. This was nicely illustrated by one user who, very active on the forums, left in high dudgeon because the mods waited 48 hours before banning Dillahunty after Curiousgate. She felt that they had simply exposed her to too much danger by not acting quicker. She visualised the Dillahunty-Troll coming to eat her up for dinner and that would frighten me too I must admit !

But if she had been encouraged to make a decision for herself and pointed in the direction of, for example Matt's youtube videos, surely she would have had a different perspective.

Okay so what's the upshot ? Perhaps it's that, at least to some extent, those A+ people are just misguided well-meaners who've been caught out by a deeply flawed project. It's brought out the worst in them, and even though they are temporarily acting like scientologists, just maybe, when Atheism+ has blown over (hopefully soon), we'll be able to discuss stuff rationally with them.

Perhaps even the topic of whether atheism does indeed mean you necessarily have to adopt certain political/sociological theories or you're 'irrational' (because this is a valid discussion and would be very interesting to have, provided it is not done in the context of identity politics of course)

Anyway, this has taken me blinking ages to write, so I hope it's suitable for your forum, and please do comment. Agree or disagree of course.

Phil


-------- end of copied post.

Feel free to comment, agree or disagree of course !


Last edited by Cuduggan2K2 on Thu Oct 25, 2012 10:05 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Moved to relevant forum)

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Re: About the 'other' forum

Post  Cuduggan2K2 on Thu Oct 25, 2012 10:04 am

I don't think a safe space is a bad idea, a safe space has always been a meta-area where certain information, harmful to certain people, is not permitted. However I don't think a safe space is the right place to win converts to a movement or to grow a movement. That said, it probably is the right area to organise A+ from, because the people most affected by the issues of lack of social justice are those who benefit most from a safe space.

I don't think here is a place to bash the main A+ forum's mods, they're working in a new envronment under tough conditions, and while some mistakes have been made (the slow banning of MattD following the curious incident of Curious for example) problems are being rectified and they're trying to make it the best space for its intentions they can.

I have different intentions for this metaspace and those intentions will change as the metaspace fills up with users. Thanks for the support.

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Re: About the 'other' forum

Post  mood2 on Thu Oct 25, 2012 10:26 am

welcome piginthecity Smile

I'm each to their own about this.

The original board has set up this place in response to people saying they wanted A+ to be more open, while retaining the safe space for those who prefer that approach. I expect there'll be some hoohah back and forth for a while about it, but there's no denying this is a positive response to some of the criticisms they've had from people who share their goals but didn't like the set up at the original board. Well hopefully positive, depends what we do with it.

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Re: About the 'other' forum

Post  piginthecity on Thu Oct 25, 2012 10:28 am

Yeah,

Fair enough in that I don't mean to have a go at Flew in particular, it was just that his name was best for comic effect in that part of the post.

I don't think i can overstate, though, the fact that the problems caused by this unworkable and incoherent 'safe space' idea which is the root cause of the impossible situation over there where the moderators are under this constant pressure and in a lose-lose position with regards to attempting to satisfy all these imaginary, supposed needs of the 'vulnerable' as well as being targets for those who find the atmosphere stifling to any real discussion.

Okay I've gone all militant I admit it - I think it's the gender neutral pronouns which sent me over the edge ! (and it wasn't even my post - like i say, I haven't posted there and won't)

To be more positive:

Yes, it's a good idea to have a subset of atheists, those who are politically active in progressive causes.

Yes it's a good idea to connect with each other on the internet by means of a forum.

Yes, it's a good idea to make this forum as friendly as possible and welcoming to all, discouraging idiocy and offence within bounds of reason.

Yes and no on the name atheism+ - it's strong but a bit cheeky to co-opt the name (not a hanging offence, though)

No we shouldn't be spending all our energy internally on this with-us-against-us stuff.

No we shouldn't allow ourselves to be run by a small self-selected clique who censor everyone's speech according to a fixed narrow ideology.

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Re: About the 'other' forum

Post  mood2 on Thu Oct 25, 2012 10:49 am

Yes you're right, and No you're not wrong

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Re: About the 'other' forum

Post  piginthecity on Thu Oct 25, 2012 11:43 am

Hey, mood -

In reply to your first post. I think the two forums would be a good way to go as you suggest and I'm behind it.

If it was me, I'd ideally call them 'movement space' and 'debate space' or something, not safe and unsafe. The movement space would have a clearly defined set of goals, and an overt not a covert hierarchy running it, with some real accountability. There would also be a limit, within bounds of reason, to the degree of 'vulnerability' which can be accomodated.

If someone is really vulnerable and is revealing things online which truly make them worryingly so, then it's actually cruel to encourage this on the grounds that they're in a special 'safe space'. It's still the public internet and you don't know who is who, so you are doing them a huge disservice by pretending that your bit of the internet is 'safe' just on your say so. They have to learn to use judgement for themselves as to what they say. Remember that it's what people reveal on the internet that makes them vulnerable. Even the most vulnerable individual in the world can't possibly be hurt if all they use the internet for is to exchange knitting patterns.

The debate space would just be a free speech zone with a 'Don't be a Dick!' rule.

It wouldn't be enough to heal the Great Rift, though, that's too deep. But on the bright side, the Rift really only applies to online interactions. People in real organisations, most of the time anyway, have enough sense of common purpose for it not to matter. I think the online community will be fractured now for a while and that's just the way it's going to be.

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Re: About the 'other' forum

Post  Atheist Dude on Thu Oct 25, 2012 12:21 pm

piginthecity wrote:Hey, mood -

The debate space would just be a free speech zone with a 'Don't be a Dick!' rule.


Could I add, a ban on saying "intent is not magic". Rolling Eyes jk

"Don't be a Dick" rule just about covers everything worth covering in my opinion.
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Re: About the 'other' forum

Post  mood2 on Thu Oct 25, 2012 11:24 pm

Cuduggan's said he's going to let things free wheel here basically until it looks like a sort of board culture emerges and then look at it again. That seems like a reasonable approach for now, rather than laying out the rules first and expecting us to tailor ourselves to them.

My preference would be for this place to be more focussed on activism, eventually even turn into a sorta hub for online atheist groups and others to post about what they're up to, a place to discuss and coordinate campaigns n wotnot, with a social justice/humanism angle. That's maybe a bit ambitious, and would need some hatchet-burying which will take time too, but it's worth giving a go I think. There's no shortage of debate re A+, but not so much getting useful stuff done. That was my own major bugbear with the original board, too inward looking and rarified. I reckon it's fine to have a place like that focussed on mutual support, and they're grown ups and can weigh the risks and rewards of that, but that's not all A+ can be. Or was supposed to be from what I gather. Anyway I don't see that A+ has to be owned by the folks who kicked it off. A more organic, lets see what happens approach feels refreshing at the moment!

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